Northern Ireland news

Quinn uncle: I identified the blackened bodies of my nephews

Frankie Quinn, uncle of the three young brothers, talks about the night the were murdered in July 1998. Picture by Cliff Donaldson
Connla Young

THE uncle of three children killed in a sectarian arson attack carried out during the Drumcree standoff 20 years ago has revealed how he identified the blackened bodies of his young nephews.

Richard (10), Mark (9) and Jason Quinn (8) died after their mother Chrissie’s home in the mainly Protestant Carnany estate in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, was petrol-bombed by the UVF on July 12 1998.

A fourth brother Lee (12) survived because he was staying at his grandmother’s house that night.

The savagery of the triple killing, which took place at the height of that year’s Orange Order Drumcree stand-off, made headlines around the world.

The murders took place just hours before thousands of Orangemen and supporters were due to descend on Portadown after they were banned from marching along the nationalist Garvaghy Road.

In the years after the murders support for the order’s annual Drumcree dispute gradually fell away.

Although the children attended a Protestant school, their Requiem Mass was held at Our Lady and St Patrick’s Church in Ballymoney with burial at St Mary’s cemetery in Rasharkin.

Such was the global reach of the tragedy a minute’s silence was held in the European parliament.

Now 20 years after the children’s murder, their uncle Frankie Quinn has revealed how he identified two of the children after they were killed and the devastation the murders have had on his family.

He also lifts the lid on how he and other family members were targeted by the UVF before the lives of the three children were cruelly cut short.

On the night of the attack their mother Chrissie, who was said to be worried about the possibility her home being targeted, stayed up until 2.30am.

Around two hours after going to bed loyalists attacked the house, which was quickly engulfed by fire.

It later emerged that Chrissie had tried to save her children before jumping from an upstairs bedroom window.

Two friends who were staying in the house also escaped.

It was later reported that the desperate children could be heard crying for help with one calling out that his feet were burning as fire swept through their home.

Mr Quinn said that on the night his sister’s house was attacked he had decided to stay at his brother’s home in Rasharkin because he feared it would be targeted by loyalists.

He explained that he was later woken to be told of the tragedy unfolding just a few miles away.

“I jumped into the car and drove to Coleraine casualty where I met the police,” he said.

He reveals how he then saw his sister, who was being treated at the hospital, and asked to see his dead nephews.

“I talked the hospital into letting me see the weans and they didn’t want me to,” he said.

“I said I could ID them.”

Mr Quinn remains traumatised by what he saw.

“I did ID them, they were black. Their wee mouths were all melted, where they had been bringing in the hot fumes.

“It was tough, I only ID’d two, I didn’t want to ID the third, I knew who the third was.”

Mr Quinn said their mother also wanted to see her little boys.

“Then my sister wanted to see them, I talked her out of it,” he said.

“I told her it was something she didn’t want to see.

“I could clearly see their mouths were melted like plastic, it’s something I will not forget.”

The children were later waked at their grandmother’s house in Rasharkin.

“To me it wasn’t real,” Mr Quinn said.

“I dug their grave, that was an experience and a half.

“I was just numb and could not believe it was happening, that’s why I had to see their bodies, I didn’t want to believe it.

“They were in closed coffins, it was just three white boxes sitting in the room covered in flowers.

“My sister was in bits, the whole family was in bits.”

Mr Quinn has said the attack placed a heavy strain on family relations, which continues to this day.

“To be honest it more or less ripped our family apart,” he said.

“Most of us are not talking to each other now.

“It has an impact on everybody in the family, we lost three important members of the family.

“Richard was just a wee devil, Jason was a wee fighter and Mark was just soft and gigglier.”

Mr Quinn said that he was regularly in conflict with members of the UVF and in the days before the attack he was involved in a car pursuit with a suspect.

Asked if he blamed himself for what happened he said, “a bit, aye, for fighting back”.

He added: “I know at the end of the day I didn’t throw the petrol bombs but if I had not had that car chase they might not have done what they did that night.

“(I have) guilt that I did not go to my sister’s house too, I should have been there that night.”

Ballymoney man Garfield Gilmour was later convicted of the children’s murders but had the charge reduced to manslaughter on appeal.

He was jailed for 14 years in 2000.

During police interviews Gilmour named two other men Johnny McKay and Raymond Parke and alleged they were leading perpetrators in what the trial judge Lord Justice McCollum described as a “shameful outrage”.

The judge did accept in his judgment that Gilmour had remained in the getaway car while McKay and Parke lobbed the petrol bomb.

Mr Quinn last night said he is also aware of the identities of others he believes were involved, one of which he says now lives across the border.

He said his family still wants justice.

“The family wants justice more than anything,” he said.

Mr Quinn appeared in court in 2007 accused of stabbing Garfield Gilmour after they met at a health centre in Ballymoney.

Mr Quinn says that in the years before the attack he was threatened, shot at, had bullets sent through the post and was held at gunpoint by the UVF.

He says that since 1994 he has been threatened by loyalist groups around 20 times.

According to Mr Quinn, other members of his family have also been threatened and his brother’s house has been pipe bombed.

At one stage he even moved to England “to get away from it all”.

He claims he has also had a strained relationship with police and is critical of them.

He said that his family first came into conflict with loyalists around 1994 when he refused to make a donation to a loyalist prisoners’ collection at his front door in Ballymoney.

He said this incident was followed by a fall out with a local family who reported him to the UVF in Ballymena.

He claims 16 men in three car loads later called at his sister Chrissie’s house and “wrecked” it, throwing a television and chair through a window.

He says they also threatened to kill both himself and Chrissie’s husband John Dillon.

He claims that he was later pulled from a car at gunpoint when travelled to Ballymena to confront the UVF members who had smashed up his sister’s house.

He also claims the UVF have tried to fine him several times but he refused to pay.

“Four years I fought with them,” he said.

“Four years I just battered at them, gave them my middle joint.

“They told me they would get me. Don’t get me wrong, they came for me a few times during the night but they didn’t get in. At one time I was waiting at the other side of the door with a hatchet, they were lucky they didn’t get in. I was just waiting for them to come in.

“They just wanted us out because we were Catholics, it’s a simple as that.”

In April 1999 the Quinn brother’s former home was demolished to make way for a children’s play area as a memorial.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Northern Ireland news

Today's horoscope

Horoscope


See a different horoscope: